Cancer

Reduced incidence of advanced breast cancers with regular mammogram screening

A team of Swedish scientists found a significantly reduced incidence of advanced breast cancers and breast cancer deaths when women get regular mammograms.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women. Improvements in cancer treatment options, the promotion of breast self-exams, and the adoption of regular breast cancer screenings using mammography (mammograms) in the mid-1980’s have all contributed to reducing the mortality due to breast cancer.

A mammogram is a special kind of screening where a picture of the inside of a woman’s breasts is taken using a low dose of X-rays in order to look for possible cancerous growths.  It is recommended that women aged 50 and above get a mammogram every two years.  Women aged 40 to 49 are also recommended for a mammogram if they have a family history of breast cancer.

A group of researchers in Sweden wanted to try and separate the effects of mammogram screenings from the effects of improved cancer treatments in order to determine whether increased screening rates reduce the incidence of fatal breast cancer.  The researchers analyzed the records from nearly a third of all of the women in Sweden over more than two decades.  In total, they analyzed the records of more than half a million Swedish women aged 40 to 54 years old who received mammogram screenings every 18 months, and women aged 55 to 69 years of age who received mammograms every two years.

The scientists searched through public databases of mammogram screening records, and separated the women who participated in regular mammogram screenings (participants) from those who did not go for regular screenings (non-participants).  They then looked at the incidence of advanced breast cancers in both participant and non-participant groups.  They also looked at how many women died within 10 years of their initial breast cancer diagnosis for both groups.

What they found was that women who went for regular mammogram screenings had a 41% lower chance of dying within 10 years of the initial diagnosis date.  They also discovered that there was a reduced incidence of advanced breast cancers.  Women who went for regular mammogram screenings had a 25% reduction in their chance of developing advanced breast cancer compared to women who did not get regular mammograms. 

These numbers were all taken during the same time period, so breast cancer treatment choices were the same for both participant and non-participant women.  This suggests that the treatments used may not explain the differences in cancer severity or death in this population.  Since the database was from the Swedish public health care system, the researchers could not include results from women who went to private clinics for screenings and treatments. 

The results of the study suggest that  regular mammograms can reduce the risk of advanced breast cancers and the reduce the risk of dying from this.  These results highlight how important it is for women to follow a regular screening program. Doing so will increase their chances of early breast cancer detection and reduce their risk of dying from this disease.

Written by Nancy Lemieux

References:

1. Early Mammography Screening Lowers Risk Of Developing Fatal Breast Cancer. [online] Available at: <https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-05/w-ems050620.php> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

2. Duffy, S., et al.  2020. Mammography Screening Reduces Rates Of Advanced And Fatal Breast Cancers: Results In 549,091 Women. [online] Mammography screening reduces rates of advanced and fatal breast cancers: Results in 549,091 women. Available at: <https://acsjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/cncr.32859> [Accessed 12 May 2020].

Image by Elías Alarcón from Pixabay 

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